Australians experiencing re-entry anxiety after COVID lockdown


Xinhua News

18th October 2021 – (Sydney) After more than 100 days in lockdown, residents of Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) enjoy more freedom from Monday, as the state reached its 80-percent vaccination rate target.

However, people have been faced with new anxieties and challenges that come with re-adjusting to normal life.

Mother of two, Sherry Lee, sent her twin boys in Year 1 back to school in Sydney on Monday morning for the first time since lockdowns ended. She packed three masks for each child and showed them how they should wear them, but this only did so much to put her worries to rest.

“It’s great to have the kids back to school, but I don’t feel quite at ease. The reports that the Delta variant is more infectious for young people and kids than the previous variants made me feel stressed,” she told Xinhua.

Shelly Diane, a 25-year-old marketing specialist living in Sydney’s north, told Xinhua that it has been hard to feel the same sense of comfort she used to in public spaces, especially indoors.

“I went to a bar with my family, and you feel a bit claustrophobic being surrounded by so many people. It is hard to feel the same sense of safety. I was shocked and nervous when they didn’t check out vaccination at the door,” said Diane.

Dr. Suraj Samtani, clinical psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) told Xinhua it is understandable that people would feel anxious during these initial stages, especially when many rules and regulations are still up in the air and being adjusted.

“When you’ve gone to a venue and your vaccine passport wasn’t checked, that takes away that knowledge that you’re surrounded by vaccinated people,” said Samtani.

“It’s really important for people to have a sense of control so that they can manage their risk and level of anxiety.”

Thirty-three-year-old law student Ryan Leaney told Xinhua many everyday things, like getting a haircut, have become new points of anxiety.

“Honestly it was strange doing something so normal after such a long time, afterwards I felt quite overwhelmed and emotional.”

Samtani said this reaction is “normal”.

“People can feel overwhelmed because they’ve been living under so much uncertainty for so long and they’re just finally able to do something familiar.”

While non-essential workers are yet to return to their workplaces, after working from home for so long returning to physical workplaces will likely be a major point of anxiety for many.

Diane said she has been “dreading” the return to the office.

“I just feel really anxious about meetings in person and being in that professional environment, it is very different from having meetings online from the comfort of your own home.”

Leaney said that while he is excited to return to the classroom, he is nervous that his social skills have declined during lockdown.

“There’s that anxiety of like, ‘Am I ready to talk to a new people?'”

Australian mental health and suicide hotline, Lifeline, reported in October that demand for their service had seen an increase of 40 percent since pre-pandemic times.

“As we navigate the economic recovery from this pandemic, we must also support people’s mental wellbeing along the way,” said NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet while announcing a 130-million-Australian-dollar (about 96-million-U.S.-dollar) investment in the state’s mental health services.

Samtani said that going forward it would be important for people not to make their assessment of health risks based on the number of daily cases, and overcoming feelings of anxiety would be a gradual process.

“If a situation is safe and you have been avoiding it, it prevents you from learning that the situation is actually safe. And by putting yourself in a situation where you’re doing a small, achievable step, and repeating that several times… (you can) gradually build your confidence over time.”

“Avoidance leads to anxiety, and experience leads to confidence.”